For Eric Idle, it's simple: "I like thinking up things that don't need doing and doing them."
That's why, the former Monty Python member says, he created "Spamalot," the 2005 Tony-winning musical-comedy that moved into the Wynn Las Vegas this weekend.
Based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Spamalot" has been very much Idle-ized, filled with silliness. ("It raises silliness to an art form," wrote the Times of London.)
For Vegas, the show has been trimmed by 22 minutes and is now one long (about 70 minutes) act. It stars John O'Hurley (of "Seinfeld's" J. Peterman fame) as King Arthur.
Associate director Peter Lawrence, who has been working with director Mike Nichols for three years, since the show's inception, says that "Spamalot" was a much smaller musical when it begin.
It eventually evolved into a big Broadway show through a collaborative effort with Idle, Nichols and other members of the creative team.
But when it came to shrinking it for Vegas, it was all Idle.
"Eric did all the rewrites, cutting it by the clock ... taking a verse out of a song or little bit out of every scene," says Lawrence. "Things weren't cut wholesale. The only number that was cut was a little one called 'All for One.' "
An early riser, the comedian would have rewrites done before rehearsals began at 9 a.m., and Lawrence says Idle was only protective about preserving the Python spirit.
Idle asked permission of the
"Eric is just heaven to work with," says Lawrence. "He and Neil Simon share a sense of real great craftsmanship. They really want to keep writing until they get it right."
Idle, along with John Du Prez, wrote some new songs for "Spamalot." However, for the show, he imported probably his most famous tune, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," which was written for the closing scene of the film Monty Python's "Life of Brian" and sung from the crosses during the mass
A family man ("I'm heavily married") with a teenage daughter, Lily, Idle who turned 64 recently talked to us about "Spamalot," Vegas and "miserable bastards."
Q: Since you're going to Vegas, do you gamble?
A: Not at all. No, I never do. I go to see the shows and shop. I think that's a much better way of spending your money. You get something for it.
Q: Is taking "Spamalot" to Vegas a gamble?
A: I think all that entertainment is always a gamble. We know it works on Broadway and on tour. We know that people just love it. But we know that the people in Vegas are more in a party mood. So far, the previews have gone well. They're showing up and laughing their asses off.
Q: Do you have to be a Python fan to like "Spamalot"?
A: This isn't for Python fans only. It's a Broadway musical. Well, it's kind of an anti-
Broadway musical. It's a musical that sends up Broadway musicals.
Q: It's Vegas are you going to have nudity?
A: Only on John O'Hurley's part (he laughs). No, there's no nudity. I was tempted to go that way. What we have is a show that really works. ... It's unlike Python in that it has girls and real emotion in it. But it has Python moments of sheer hilarity.
Q: Do we miss anything in losing 22 minutes?
A: No, because you don't want to stay there too long. It's a long one-act ... . Comedy is actually tiring. I went to see Billy Connolly recently, and I was exhausted after
2 1/2 hours of laughter. "Spamalot" is physically involving comedy; so you don't want too much of it. The great thing is that you have all those musical numbers. So there are laughs in them, too. So there's not much relief.
Q: I hear a scene in "Spamalot" reminds you of another Vegas hotel and casino.
A: At one point, they go to Camelot, and the curtain goes up and it looks exactly like the Excalibur. We sort of based it on that look a sort of medieval equivalent of Vegas with gambling tables and waitresses.
Q: John Cleese (another Python alum who is the voice of God in "Spamalot") told me comedy's hard, and he's not sure he wants to get into it.
A: It isn't that hard. I have lots of friends who are funny. I think people who are funny have managed to get some perspective on life which is very positive and very exhilarating.
Q: But not all comedians are funny in life.
A: Some are sort of miserable bastards and won't give you a laugh for anything. I avoid the miserable bastards.
Q: So "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is not just a joke?
A: It's very much a motto of a boarding-school boy who was 12 years in boarding school. ... I think it's an ironic viewpoint of life. It also says life's a piece of (excrement) when you look at it; so you might as well cheer up.
Q: What's funny now?
A: We're in a satire boom. There's a lot to laugh at, bitter laughs. ... Things need saying.
Q: Who's funny now?
Q: Eddie Izzard, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart ... Billy Connolly, Larry David ...
Q: They've all worked on television. Would you work on television?
A: Absolutely not. That's filled with executives. I think you have to run away from people and their big jobs. We (Python) would have never got on had there been executives. We would have never made movies had they been with studios.
Q: So, keep away from executives?
A: Absolutely. I think when people who don't know what they're talking about give you advice, it's confusing. ... I've noticed that Americans are very good at creating an executive level. If you give one American a job, they'll have three working for them by the end of the week.
Q: Do you eat SPAM?
A: No, I'm veggie a fishie anyway.
Rob Lowman (818) 713-3687 email@example.com
"Monty Python's Spamalot"
Where: Wynn Las Vegas casino resort
When: Runs indefinitely.
How much: $49-$99